The making of a CEO

By James Whitmore

Shamini Rajarethnam climbed from marketing coordinator to CEO at luxury skincare company, Rationale, in four years. Here she shares her wisdom – from juggling work and home life to the importance of building a “tribe” of trusted advisors.

Shamini Rajarethnam began working at Australian skincare brand Rationale in 2011 as marketing and digital coordinator. At the time, there were nine people at the company. Now there are over a hundred, and Rajarethnam is CEO, a role she took on in 2016, barely four years after she started.

Under her leadership, Rationale has achieved significant commercial growth and success, and now operates 15 flagship clinics in Australia. There are plans this year for global expansion.

shamini profile
"Culture really starts from the top. It starts from the founders of the business, to myself, and to my executive team as well."

Her position makes her one of the youngest CEOs in Australia, and one of the few females (only 17% of CEOs in Australia are women). Her appointment from within is also a rather non-traditional pathway for a company leader.

“I was very fortunate to be in a company at its pivotal growth stage. I leaned into a lot of different opportunities that came my way, and I was afforded a lot of those opportunities by the founders of the company.”

She worked through several different positions within Rationale, including digital and operations manager, experience she says set her up perfectly for the executive role.

“I have a very clear understanding of every process, and I can put myself in different shoes within the organisation, how one role affects another role, and how you need every part to work together. Marketing very much needs operations, operations very much need sales, sales very much needs the warehouse to be working, and underpinning all of that, you've got your logistics and your finance teams as well.”

She says taking an active role in shaping the culture of Rationale is the most important aspect of her role as CEO.

“Culture really starts from the top. It starts from the founders of the business, to myself, and to my executive team as well. We are the beacons of what the company stands for, and we have to lead by example.”

The CEO juggle

After growing up in Singapore, Rajarethnam gained a Masters of Commerce (Marketing) from Melbourne Business School in 2007. She then worked in marketing until joining Rationale.

After a few years in the CEO role, Rajarethnam and her husband decided to start a family. People often ask how she juggles the two facets of her life.

“It’s interesting because my husband is a founder of a company, and also a young father, but he doesn’t get that question as much. As women, we have to navigate through the expectations around how we should juggle our work and home lives.”

Rajarethnam says becoming a parent has changed how she approaches time management – for herself and her team.

“You have to be protective of your time. I’m quite unapologetic about how I devise and divide the time I spend on work and home responsibilities. I encourage my team to have the same attitude.”

Build your tribe

She says empathy is the key to successfully leading and growing a business.

“Really hone in on how you become more self-aware, about how you regulate your emotions, about how you impact somebody else's life and work scenario. At the end of the day, if you don't understand people, they're not going to follow you and they're not going to listen to or respect you.”

Shamini and colleagues at Rationale.

Being at the top is a great opportunity to define company culture, Rajarethnam says, but it can also be lonely.

“It’s so important to build a “tribe” of trustworthy people around you. I have a group of four people I know I can turn to for guidance and a trusted opinion. One is a really close friend and fellow leader at Rationale. My husband is another one. And I've got a few other career-minded girlfriends I can go to for a bit of a sense check.”

Rajaretham credits her success in part to role models she had when she was starting her career.

“I had a beautiful manager who taught me kindness, and how to care for your team as people, not just employees. She has had a huge impact on how I behave as a leader today.”

Banner: The Rationale team.

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